Legislative scorecard: winners, losers (and a few that are still hanging)
The day after the annual legislative session ends is typically a time for all sides to declare victory, lament defeat, or spin one into the other. Below, our list of winners and losers from the 2012 session.
Not everything that didn’t get done is dead; legislators are expected to return for a special session in the coming weeks to vote on budget implementation bills that could incorporate proposals that didn’t get through in the regular session.
Major Budget Expenditures
Cities and towns: For the first time since 2007-08, the Education Cost Sharing grant will rise. The $1.9 billion grant program will grow by a modest $50 million. The governor and legislature also added $5.2 million to the Priority School District Grant and another $5.7 million to non-education aid.
University of Connecticut Health Center: UConn received a $13.5 million payment to plug a gap in its budget’s fringe benefit accounts for 2012-13. Though the center is supposed to pay for its staff’s fringe benefits using receipts from the John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, in recent years, it has frequently had to divert hospital revenues to offset little or no growth in state aid for academic programs at the health center.
Bus Passengers: Though rail fares are increasing, the new budget eliminates a planned 4 percent rate increase in January for users of commuter buses and transit services for the disabled.
Certified Public Accountants, etc.: Actually, anyone who had hoped the state would make its first payment against the colossal task of closing its deficit under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Malloy and the legislature sacrificed the planned $75 million payment to help close a deficit in the current budget and to avoid another shortfall in 2012-13.
Transportation System: The new budget draws away more than $70 million from transportation, cutting a cash account for road repairs and delaying bonding for infrastructure work.
Rail Commuters: After paying a 4 percent rate increase this year, commuters on Connecticut’s shoreline services had hoped to avoid another 4 percent bump in January after the Appropriations Committee endorsed a subsidy increase to offset it. But that increase was stripped out of the final $20.5 billion budget approved for 2012-13.
— Keith M. Phaneuf
WINNERS (which appears to mean everybody)
At the conclusion of a session dedicated to education, everyone was a winner — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the teachers’ unions and, as state representatives routinely said before unanimously passing the bill, Connecticut students.
Some people left the 2012 legislative session questioning whether the education reform bill went far enough, but no one appeared to leave complaining that their interests had been trampled upon.
Charter schools: They will receive a significant boost in state funding, from $9,400 to $11,500 over the next three school years.
Urban districts: The bulk of the $100 million education package goes to the state’s lowest-performing districts, most which are in the state’s cities. The money will go toward increasing preschool enrollment, to reading programs, turning around schools with state supervision and plans that are approved by the State Department of Education.
Teachers: Teachers kept their collectively bargained contracts intact in the schools that the state intervenes in, and, for at least three years, tenure will not be linked to evaluations. This is to give time for the new evaluations to be fine-tuned. The unions have called both of these changes “fair.”
Black and Hispanic students: The governor has called education the “civil rights issue of our time,” and the yawning achievement gap between minority students and their peers shows that the state has a way to go to change this. The student bodies of most of the low-achieving schools that are to receive additional state money are largely made up of minorities.
— Jacqueline Rabe Thomas
Health and Social Services
Health care and social services took a backseat to education for much of the session. One high-profile exception was a controversial proposal to grant collective bargaining rights to home care workers and daycare providers paid through state programs. After failing to make it through committee, the proposal resurfaced on the House floor and passed both chambers after lengthy debates. Opponents are holding out hope that legal challenges to the executive orders that gave rise to the legislation will succeed.
Human services providers: Private human service providers that contract with the state will get their first rate increase in four years — 1 percent, beginning in January. The $8.5 million is to be targeted to employee wages and benefits.
Department on Aging: The budget includes $100,000 to start a department focused on seniors, a move that’s been delayed for several years. Restoring a freestanding department on aging has been a longtime priority of Democratic Sen. Edith G. Prague, who served briefly as commissioner of aging in the 1990s before Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. eliminated the department.
Alzheimer’s respite care: Malloy proposed cutting funds by 10 percent for the program, which gives a break to those caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The budget that passed the legislature maintains the program’s funding at $2.3 million.
People on the home care waiting list: Malloy’s original budget proposal would have allowed an estimated 76 people who need hands-on help to receive home care through a Medicaid program known as the personal care attendant waiver. Space in the program is limited and there’s a waiting list. Malloy’s proposal would have moved those in the program who are 65 or older into a separate home care program for seniors that has no space limit, freeing up slots for those under 65. But the move was estimated to cost $600,000, and got left out of the final budget deal.
Medicaid for Low-Income Adults recipients: The budget deal instituted a $10,000 asset limit for the Medicaid program that serves poor adults who don’t have minor children. Currently, applicants for Medicaid for Low-Income Adults must be below the poverty level, but there’s no limit on their assets. The changes also include taking family income into account when determining eligibility for people under 26, and limiting nursing home coverage. It’s not clear how many people will lose eligibility, but lawmakers are counting on $50 million in savings from the changes, which are contingent on getting approval from the federal government.
LifeStar: The critical care helicopter program, run by Hartford Hospital, gets a state subsidy, but it’s being cut by $600,000 in the next fiscal year.
TO BE DETERMINED
Nurse delegation: The Malloy administration has been seeking to relax the legal requirement that only nurses can administer medication to clients receiving home care, a move proponents say would save money and make it easier for people to receive care at home, rather than in nursing homes. Nurses have raised safety concerns about the concept, under which trained home care aides could administer medication under the supervision of a nurse. The bill on it didn’t pass this session, but language allowing the change is expected to be included in legislation taken up during a special session later this year. Savings from the change are already included in the budget.
Basic health program: Advocates for the poor had hoped that lawmakers would commit to creating a state-run insurance plan for low-income adults who fall just above the income limit for Medicaid under federal health reform. Malloy administration officials, wary of committing the state to a program before the federal government made clear all the details, agreed to support a bill that would create a process for evaluating the concept of a state-run plan without requiring that they develop one. But when time ran out, the bill was still waiting for action in the House.
Exchange board changes: Supporters of universal health care and consumer advocates have been pushing for changes to the composition of the board that oversees the health insurance exchange, a marketplace for buying coverage under federal health reform. A proposal to add small business and consumer members to the board passed the House unanimously, but didn’t make it through the Senate.
Health care pooling: An attempt to allow small businesses to get health care coverage through the state employee pool, a longtime goal of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, never came up on the House floor. You probably don’t want to bet on this one resurfacing this year. The Malloy administration has been skeptical of the concept, a position bolstered by advice from the U.S. Department of Labor, which warned that opening the state pool to small businesses could jeopardize certain legal protections the government plan now has.
— Arielle Levin Becker
Energy and Environment
The balance of success was tipped dramatically by the failure of major energy legislation that would have added key components to critical energy programs and departments. Lost was a more permanent source to fund low-cost energy audits for oil heat customers and bonding authority for the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority to help create a funding mechanism that would entice private investors. Many other measures that would have clarified and tweaked duties and programs in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also died in the bill.
But there were still a few important bills that fought their way successfully to the finish line.
Phosphorus reduction in state waters: With the Federal Environmental Protection Agency setting standards for phosphorus and the state faced with figuring out how to get there, legislation was passed to make phosphorus mitigation projects eligible for 30 percent grants from the state Clean Water Fund. It also calls for a statewide phosphorus mitigation strategy, and it limits the use of high phosphorus fertilizers by everyone (including homeowners) except golf courses and agriculture operations. It’s a $500 fine if you don’t comply.
Coastal management: Legislation borne of Tropical Storm Irene that for the first time includes sea level rise among the criteria for coastal planning. It also calls for minimizing “shoreline armoring,” better known as seawalls and instead lists specific natural anti-flood and erosion alternatives like added vegetation, sand fill and dunes. It requires state and local authorities governing erosion and flood control projects to work with applicants to come up with the least environmentally damaging alternatives.
Open space: Tightens requirements for updating the state’s open space plan to reach the previously legislated goal of holding 21 percent of the state’s land area as open space. Also establishes a registry to better tabulate how much land is held as open space.
Mercury thermostat recycling: Requires home thermostat manufacturers to establish a collection and recycling program by April 1, 2013. Part of an ongoing effort by DEEP to make manufacturers responsible for disposing of their own products at the end of their life cycles. The concept is called extended producer responsibility.
GMO labeling: A measure that could have made Connecticut the first state to require the labeling of all foods that include genetically modified organisms was rewritten as little more than a statement of concern after lawyers in the Legislative Commissioners’ Office expressed concerns that the state could be a target for lawsuits by the large GMO seed manufacturers. The bill never went to a vote.
Mattress recycling: This go at extended producer responsibility, that would have made Connecticut the first state to require recycling of all used mattresses (they can be made into a lot of things), made it through the Senate but fell victim to time and a concern about an additional fee on new mattress purchases to cover the recycling costs. It remains to be seen what this will mean for the state’s first two mattress recycling facilities due to open this month.
Outdoor wood furnace restrictions: Failed again – but this year made it further than ever with a big Senate approval. It would have forced the use of new, cleaner outdoor wood furnaces, banned their use in select individual cases and set in motion a study to figure out a more coherent policy once and for all. Count on this one coming back, again.
— Jan Ellen Spiegel
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